Center fielder Matt Kemp celebrates after hitting a game-ending home run… (Harry How / Getty Images )
All the attention was focused on Bryce Harper, baseball wunderkind. National television, a packed press box, and even if the sellout crowd came for bobble-heads, the focus was still on the 19-year-old making his major-league debut for Washington.
And then the strangest things happened. A great game broke out. A great, zany, stupefying game. Oh, yeah, and Matt Kemp.
While the much-heralded Harper, the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, brought a historic feel to the game, the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg and the Dodgers’ Chad Billingsley locked into an old-fashioned pitching duel.
Harper wasn’t about to be overlooked, the left-fielder’s sacrifice fly in the ninth inning briefly providing what appeared to be the winning run in the ninth before the Dodgers tied it with two the bottom of the inning to set things up for -- who else? -- Kemp.
Kemp crushed his major-league leading 11th home run of the season in the 10th inning to provide the Dodgers with a dramatic 4-3 victory over the stunned Nationals before a crowd of 54,242.
Kemp crushed his solo home run to center off Tom Gorzelanny to cap a night of drama.
Neither Strasburg nor Billingsley were around for a wild finish, each allowing one run in their final inning and leaving without a decision.
Harper was booed at his introduction and in each of his four plate appearances, and if he didn’t make like “The Natural,” he didn’t exactly disappoint. Harper went 1-for-3, his first hit a double over the head of Kemp in center that hit the base of the wall and then came up with his run-scoring fly in the ninth.
Scott Elbert and struggling Javy Guerra combined to give up a pair of runs in the ninth, but the Dodgers rallied to tie it again with two more in the bottom of the inning.
Billingsley was sharp from the outset. He held the Nationals scoreless through six innings. Only trouble for the Dodgers was that Strasburg was mirroring the performance, if with an even more dominating effort. He breezed through the Dodgers’ lineup for six innings, largely overpowering them with his 99-mph fastball.
But both pitchers cracked slightly in the seventh. For Billingsley, it happened quickly. Adam LaRoche led off the top of the seventh with line-drive homer into the right-field stands.
The Dodgers came right back with a run in the bottom of the inning, though theirs was a tad more painful.Jerry Hairston Jr.led off the bottom of the inning and was hit by a Strasburg fastball on the left hand. And that had to hurt.
James Loney hit a roller that second baseman Danny Espinosa couldn’t come up with; he was charged with an error. After Juan Uribe struck out, unable to get a sacrifice bunt down,A.J. Ellis bounced a hit into left.
Harper fielded the ball cleanly and fired a bullet home. It was a great throw and would have nailed Hairston, who never touched the plate as he initially slid past it, but he did manage to knock the ball out of catcher Wilson Ramos’ glove. Hairston reached back, slapped the plate, and was called safe.
Hairston then left the game to have X-rays, which were negative.
Meanwhile, there was the boy wonder, who was actually introduced by the public-address announcer as taking his first major-league at-bat in the second inning, when he bounced back to Billingsley. In his second at-bat, he flied out to left, and in his third, he crushed his double.
The Nationals started what they thought was their winning rally when LaRoche singled off Elbert to open the ninth. He was erased when Rick Ankiel’s poor bunt was fielded by Uribe, who fired to second to nail LaRoche.
The Dodgers then went to Guerra, who gave up a single to Espinosa and the sacrifice fly to Harper. Ramos’ single scored a second run. It was Guerra’s third consecutive poor outing, and he’s a growing concern.
Yet the Dodgers made a last charge, scoring a run off hard-throwing Henry Rodriguez on Uribe’s ground-rule double. With runners at second and third, no outs, and the infield in, Ellis struck out and pinch-hitter Adam Kennedy’s weak bouncer to first enabled Loney to be easily thrown out at home.
But with Dee Gordon at the plate, Rodriguez unleashed his third wild pitch of the inning and Kennedy scored to tie it, 3-3. And set the stage for Kemp.
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